Conductive hearing loss, one of the two main types of hearing loss, is brought on by the problem in the middle ear – eardrum or ossicles. The other type is sensorineural hearing loss, which is due to the damage in the inner ear. In some cases, a person may experience both types, which is considered mixed hearing loss.
Hearing loss doesn’t simply affect one’s ability to hear. In fact, numerous studies have shown that the impact of hearing loss spans way beyond the ability to hear and can be detrimental to one’s mental and psychological health, as well as the quality of life.
A recent study found that hearing loss is associated with brain atrophy. The researchers detected accelerating grey matter atrophy in auditory areas of the brain in patients with mild hearing loss. Declining hearing ability also meant an increase in the listening effort in seniors for more effective speech comprehension. The study found that participants with hearing loss had less brain activity when listening to complex sentences. They also had less grey matter in the auditory cortex, indicating accelerated atrophy associated with declining hearing ability in those areas of the brain responsible for sound processing.
Causes of Conductive Hearing Loss
As there are several things that can cause hearing loss, it is helpful to first understand how hearing works. The ear consists of three major areas including the outer ear, middle ear, and inner ear. Sound waves travel through the outer ear and create vibrations in the eardrum. The eardrum along with three other small bones in the middle ear amplify the vibrations as they travel to the inner ear. In the inner ear, the vibrations pass through fluid in a snail-shaped structure called the cochlea.
The cochlea has nerve cells that are covered in thousands of tiny hairs that help translate sound vibrations into electrical signals that are then transmitted to the brain. The brain then turns these signals into sound.
When people often experience hearing loss, it can be due to damage to the inner ear. This damage is largely caused by aging and exposure to loud noise which causes wear and tear on the hairs or nerve cells in the cochlea that send signals to the brain. When these hairs or nerve cells are damaged, electrical signals can’t be transmitted as efficiently, and hearing loss occurs.
Another common reason for hearing loss is from a gradual buildup of earwax. This waxy substance can block the ear canal and prevent the conduction of sound waves. Removal of earwax is a straightforward procedure and can help to restore hearing.
A slightly less common reason for hearing loss can be caused by a ruptured eardrum. Loud blasts of noise, poking with an object, infection, and sudden changes in pressure can all cause the eardrum to rupture and affect hearing. Infection alone without a ruptured eardrum can also affect hearing.
Another reason for hearing loss, although less common can include bone growth and tumors. These conditions will be diagnosed by a doctor and monitored closely.
Symptoms of Conductive Hearing Loss
Conductive hearing loss primarily affects the ability to perceive the volume of sounds, but not the clarity. Patients who suffer from this form of hearing loss may experience difficulty in hearing speech, pain in one or both ears, a sensation of pressure in the ear, or a strange odor from the ear. Many patients have also reported hearing their own voice change and having a sensation of it sounding different.
If the issue stems from damage to the inner ear, higher-pitched tones may become muffled, and it may also become difficult to pick out words against background noise.
Symptoms can range depending on which part of the ear is causing the problem. Multiple symptoms can also appear all at once. For those who are experiencing one or more of these symptoms, there are many options available for treatment.
Treatment Options for Conductive Hearing Loss
Treatment for conductive hearing loss depends on the cause. For example, if excess wax is the problem, it must be removed. If an ear infection is causing conductive hearing loss, a course of medicated treatment should help. In some cases, surgical intervention may be required to remove obstructing growths or to fix structural abnormalities of the ear.
Conductive hearing loss may be a result of head trauma, in which case it’s the injury that should be addressed in the first place. Lastly, if conductive hearing loss is inherited or genetic, appropriate adjustments are needed to help you navigate through your daily living despite your condition.
Your doctor will be able to decide on the appropriate treatment method for your conductive hearing loss based on the underlying cause.
Tips to Manage Hearing Loss as You Age
Here are effective tips to help you prevent hearing loss, or if you are already living with it, slow down its progression and help you manage the condition.
Get Your Hearing Checked
Every year, you probably get a physical examination from your doctor, and you may even get your vision checked as well. But many of us neglect another crucial test – a hearing test.
Just like getting other aspects of your health checked up, it’s important that you get your hearing checked as well to catch changes in your hearing early on and prevent further damage. Also, it allows your doctor to utilize early intervention methods to better maintain proper hearing. But if you don’t get your hearing checked regularly, you could be slipping under the radar until it’s simply too late.
The next time you start booking your yearly appointments, ensure you include a hearing test as well.
Protect Your Hearing
Maybe you attended too many loud concerts in your youth years. Or, maybe your work environment was very loud and you neglected to wear protective hearing devices. Although you can’t go back in time to change the past, you can still protect your hearing now.
Be mindful of noisy settings and monitor your volume controls, be it your car radio or your TV, along with environmental and surrounding noises.
Speak Up for Those Around You
Maybe you’re not the one with the fading hearing, but someone close to you is. You should voice your concerns to them about their hearing health and ensure they know the importance of maintaining proper hearing. Maybe suggest that they have their hearing checked. Offering the proper information can allow them to take necessary steps to protect their fading hearing.
Be Mindful of Others with Hearing Loss
Once again, if you know others with hearing loss, be mindful and patient with them, as it probably is very frustrating for them to get by. Speak slower or louder when you’re in their presence to help them better understand you. Also, don’t cover your mouth when speaking, as it helps to read lips when a person is talking.
Recognize That Your Hearing Does Change
As mentioned, some changes in life are inevitable, and hearing loss is expected to some degree. As long as you get regular hearing check-ups and work to protect your hearing, the damage doesn’t have to be life-changing, and you can still maintain adequate hearing levels no matter your age.
Get Better Earphones
If you use earphones regularly and they aren’t proper, they could be causing you harm. If you don’t have noise-canceling earphones, you could be cranking up the volume to compensate, but you should never listen to music through earphones more than 60 percent volume level unless you’re asking for hearing loss.
Find earphones or headsets that wrap around your ears, so they not only fit better but make it less likely that you hear the sounds around you.
Try Cupping Your Ear
It may look silly but making a cup shape with your hand around your ear and pushing your ear flap forward can increase hearing by up to 10 decibels. For some, the trick is to press the ear against the skull. It depends on your anatomy. Try either option and see which works best for you.
Pay Attention to Medication Side Effects
Believe it or not, the medication aimed at making you feel better could be robbing you of your hearing. Pay close attention to the side effects of medications because hearing loss may very well be one of them.
If you’re concerned about medication stealing your hearing, speak to your doctor about alternatives.
Take out the Wax
Sometimes, hearing loss is simply caused by a build-up of wax and the easiest solution is to remove it. But this does not mean you can go ahead and jab a cotton swab in it – this can lead to further damage.
If you have wax build-up, put a few drops of hydrogen peroxide or olive oil in your ears for a few nights, and the wax will soften and come out easily. If the wax is a real problem for you, speak to your doctor about wax removal and prevention methods.
What Type of Conductive Hearing Loss Can Be Treated with Hearing Aids?
For mild to moderate forms of conductive hearing loss, it may be treated with hearing aids. This is if other treatments such as surgery or medication are unable to reverse the loss of hearing. Doctors may also suggest using hearing aids in the interim before surgery or prior to completing a course of antibiotics. For severe forms of conductive hearing loss, bone conduction hearing aids may be advised.
Diagnosis of Conductive Hearing Loss
For a diagnosis of conductive hearing loss, several options exist. An otoscopy can rule out an injured eardrum, middle ear effusion, or foreign items in the ear canal.
A Weber test can also help to diagnose conductive hearing loss. During the test, a tuning fork is struck and placed on the crown of the head. If a patient is suffering from conductive hearing loss, they will not hear the sound equally in both ears. It will only travel to the impaired ear.
Another test that can help with diagnosis is the Rinne test. During this test, a tuning fork is struck and placed on the mastoid bone behind the ear. The patient then signals when they can no longer hear the tone. The fork is then moved near the ear canal and the patient again signals when they can hear the tone.
To measure the mobility of the eardrum, a tympanogram test will be done. During this test, it is noted that if the middle ear has the same pressure as the external ear canal, the eardrum will oscillate normally. If there is a difference in pressure, the oscillation behavior and the sound conduction will change.
Pure-tone audiometry compares thresholds between impaired bone and air conduction and differentiates between sensorineural and labyrinthine hearing loss. This test is important to find any defects in the labyrinth as this can lead to conductive hearing loss. When this occurs, it can cause the air conductance curve to be at higher decibel values than bone conductance. In more simpler terms, aid conduction needs a significantly louder tone to be heard as it is conducted less efficiently via the airway.
The Right Form of Treatments
As conductive hearing loss is one of the most common forms of hearing loss, there are many studies outlining symptoms, treatments, and causes. All of this information goes a long way to help patients who are having trouble hearing.
Symptoms can differ depending on which part of the ear is the root cause or multiple symptoms may present themselves at once. This is why it is so important to see a health care professional at the first sign of hearing loss. The good news is that conductive hearing loss can be reversed and effectively managed with the right form of treatment.